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Nature. 2010 Apr 29;464(7293):1347-50. doi: 10.1038/nature08939.

A role for host-parasite interactions in the horizontal transfer of transposons across phyla.

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Department of Biology, University of Texas, Arlington, Texas 76019, USA.


Horizontal transfer (HT), or the passage of genetic material between non-mating species, is increasingly recognized as an important force in the evolution of eukaryotic genomes. Transposons, with their inherent ability to mobilize and amplify within genomes, may be especially prone to HT. However, the means by which transposons can spread across widely diverged species remain elusive. Here we present evidence that host-parasite interactions have promoted the HT of four transposon families between invertebrates and vertebrates. We found that Rhodnius prolixus, a triatomine bug feeding on the blood of various tetrapods and vector of Chagas' disease in humans, carries in its genome four distinct transposon families that also invaded the genomes of a diverse, but overlapping, set of tetrapods. The bug transposons are approximately 98% identical and cluster phylogenetically with those of the opossum and squirrel monkey, two of its preferred mammalian hosts in South America. We also identified one of these transposon families in the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis, a cosmopolitan vector of trematodes infecting diverse vertebrates, whose ancestral sequence is nearly identical and clusters with those found in Old World mammals. Together these data provide evidence for a previously hypothesized role of host-parasite interactions in facilitating HT among animals. Furthermore, the large amount of DNA generated by the amplification of the horizontally transferred transposons supports the idea that the exchange of genetic material between hosts and parasites influences their genomic evolution.

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